The traditional art of rug weaving continues to follow methods that were in use more than 4,000 years ago. Many designs woven then are still in use today, having been handed down from generation to generation.
Oriental rugs have several component parts:
The warp - which are the threads running through the entire length of the rug.
The weft - which are the threads running across the width of the rug, passing through alternate warp threads. These threads secure the knots in straight lines and strengthen the rug.
The knot - Strands of yarn are looped around two adjacent warp threads to form a knot and then cut to form the pile.
The selvedge - Yarn is wrapped along the sides of the rug.
The fringe - Warp threads at both ends of the rug which can be tied into a decorative fringe.
There are three main methods of constructing a rug:
Kilim or flat woven - These have the wool threaded in and out of the warp strings, and therefore do not have pile.
Knotted - There are two main types of knot. The Persian Senneh knot which is used in China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and most of Iran and the many weaving areas of the old Soviet Union. The Turkish or Ghiordes knot is used throughout Turkey and western Iran.
Tufted - Wool is injected with a tufting gun into the backing. The tufts are then sealed into place with latex and covered with a backing cloth.
Quality - In general the quality is considered to improve as the knot density increases. The height of the pile is not an indication of quality, but more often indicates the region in which it has been woven – for example in colder regions the pile is often higher than in desert regions. During the knotting process, as each row of knots is completed, the pile is cut level. The process is repeated once the rug is finished to ensure a smooth and even pile height.
In many Chinese and Indian rugs, designs are given a strikingly clean definition by careful carving of the pile around motifs and patterns and incising to further define subtle colour shades – this is a highly skilled art.
Dyes - Early methods used natural organic dyes which are still in use, particularly in Zeigler rugs from Afghanistan. They create mellow tones which harmonise well with western furnishing tastes. Chrome dyes, originally produced in the 1920’s are also used, particularly in China and India. Their consistency of colour is vital. They are resistant to alkalis, acids and light, they do not harm the wool, run or streak, are easy to apply and have a range of over 600 colours. Muslim weavers rarely use green as a predominant colour in their rugs as this is the colour of the Prophet Mohammed’s coat and is therefore a holy colour.
Washing - Oriental rugs are mostly washed when they leave the loom. Washing methods vary greatly, from simply dipping in water and drying in the sun, to chemical washes under controlled conditions. Washing mellows colours, brings out the natural lustre of the fibres, aids moth-proofing and increases resistance to dirt and stains.
Design - Designs are transferred by two common methods.
Naksha – a full scale design on graph paper, with each square representing a knot and colour, hung on the loom for the weaver to interpret.
Talim – a written code, which is called out to several weavers, giving details of knot numbers and wool colours.
Tribal designs are memorised and handed down from generation to generation. Designs originate from the areas in which the weavers live and reflect their own particular culture. Patterns range from single geometric forms and religious symbols to ornate floral and animal motifs.
Often a rug can be identified and named from its design characteristics, for example the ‘elephant’s feet’ or ‘Gul’ motif is common in Afghan and Pakistan designs.
Oriental rugs have specific symbols or motifs. These differ based on the region, materials used and most importantly the weaver. The uniqueness of the rug comes from the personal touches of the weavers and reflect their feelings, life experiences and thoughts as well as telling stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. For example there are motifs which represent fertility, longevity, love, faith, prosperity, power and purity.